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Friday, August 12, 2022

Gators avoid disaster, pick up win in conference opener

A rocky ninth inning nearly led to a horrible collapse, but the Gators survived

<p>Sophomore Hunter Barco throws a pitch against Jacksonville March 14, 2021. The southpaw struck out 44 batters so far in his 2022 campaign. </p>

Sophomore Hunter Barco throws a pitch against Jacksonville March 14, 2021. The southpaw struck out 44 batters so far in his 2022 campaign.

Sophomore left-hander Hunter Barco made quick work of the Alabama Crimson Tide, leading the Florida Gators to victory in just over two and a half hours.

Speedy pitching is something that Florida baseball opponents have taken exception to this season, and Friday night was no different.

Alabama shortstop Jim Jarvis led off the game for Alabama and was trying to mess with Barco’s timing. Florida pitchers working quickly is something teams have taken issue with all year, and Jarvis was no exception. He stepped out to try and throw Barco off, but all it did was lead to some chirping between the two teams.

Jarvis reached on an infield single, then pointed at himself while jawing at sophomore Colby Halter. He was also nodding his head at Barco in the box 

Things started off testy and could lead to a tense series between conference opponents.

The three-game slate started with Gators escaping a ninth-inning collapse to defeat the Tide 6-4 in its conference opener Friday. 

The Gators made quick work of their opponent, winning in just over two and a half hours. The win is Florida’s 11th straight victory over Alabama and pushes the overall record to 14-4.

A huge reason for the quick pace was the dominance of sophomore Hunter Barco. The Gators star southpaw continued his great season, posting a shutout through seven. Despite being at 91 pitches, Barco returned for the eighth and immediately lost the shutout as he gave up a home run to Alabama center fielder Andrew Pickney.

Barco was completely unphased by the late mistake and quickly shut down any hopes of a comeback. He got two quick groundouts and finished off the night with a strikeout, getting Dominic Tamez swinging on a nasty slider.

Despite the late game blemish, Barco was fantastic once again and dropped his season ERA to 1.74. Barco ended the night with one run allowed on just four hits and no walks, while striking out 10 on 106 pitches in eight innings of work.

Barco now has 44 strikeouts on the year to just two walks, a stunning K/BB ratio of 22, per Nick de la Torre of Gators Online. He has allowed more than one run in just one start this season, and nearly finished his third shutout Friday.

Having him on the mound every Friday is a huge confidence boost for the Gators. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the team know their ace will give them a chance to win the opener of every series and put them on the front foot. 

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“The leadoff hitter (Jarvis) got on, but other than that (Barco) controlled the inning,” O’Sullivan said. “He gave up the one home run … but other than that he was outstanding, he really was.”

For Barco, it shows scouts that he belongs in the first round of this year’s MLB Draft and he continues to build his case.

The Gator offense jumped all over Alabama right-hander Garrett McMillan in the second inning. Infielders Kendrick Calilao and Josh Rivera started the inning with back-to-back singles, then freshman Deric Fabian brought both around with an RBI-single to right-center. 

Colby Halter nearly left the building with a laser beam to right field, but Alabama senior Tommy Seidl made a tremendous leaping catch to rob him of a home run. 

However, Jud Fabian had his back as he ripped a two-run bomb into the right field bullpen to extend the lead to four. The blast was Jud’s seventh of the season, and waiting for him at home plate was his brother, Deric.

In the third, catcher BT Riopelle launched a home run to deep right field to make it 5-0. It was the junior’s third homer of the season as he continues to swing it well with his average up to .340 on the year.

The game screeched to a halt after that as both offenses went quiet for three frames. 

The best chance either team had was in the top half of the sixth. UF loaded the bases with two outs after a double by Rivera, walk by Halter and Jud was hit by a pitch. However, the Gators came up empty as sophomore Sterlin Thompson grounded out to third to end the threat.

The Gators were able to manufacture a run in the seventh, the game’s first since Riopelle’s third-inning blast. Wyatt Langford walked to lead off  the inning and worked his way around to third, before Rivera reached on an error that allowed him to score.

The Gators were cruising, then suddenly the ship hit rocky waters.

Nick Ficcarotta came in to close the door in the ninth, but struggled mightily. He allowed two runs and brought the tying run to the plate with the score 6-3. O’Sullivan brought out the hook for Ficarrotta and brought in Blake Purnell to get the save.

Things only got rockier as Purnell hit the first batter he faced to load the bases again. Purnell seemed to roll a double play ball to third base, but Deric Fabian took too much time and everybody was safe.

Suddenly it was 6-4 and Florida looked like they were falling apart. Mercifully, Purnell rolled another double play ball from Bama shortstop Jarvis, and this time the Gators made the turn to seal the victory.

The action continues Saturday at 7 p.m. as right-handed sophomore Brandon Sproat takes the hill for Florida and left-hander Antoine Jean toes the rubber for the Tide. A win tomorrow will give coach O’Sullivan his 600th career victory

Contact Ethan Budowsky at ebudowsky@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ethanbudowsky.


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